COLUMBUS — A graduate student from suburban New York has made it his mission to fight for a series of tangible honors for the late astronaut John Glenn, including a statue, a portrait and a having Glenn’s Ohio birthplace on the National Historic Register.
It’s not rocket science, but 25-year-old Adam Sackowitz’s goals are lofty.
When Ohio added a Holocaust memorial to its Statehouse grounds in 2014, it was after a three-year fight waged by the governor, $2.1 million in mostly private fundraising and no shortage of political conflict. Getting a birthplace recognized nationally, particularly one where the famous resident spent only two years, also is a challenge.
Sackowitz, of Long Island, has the devotion of a groupie when it comes to Glenn, and he believes the space hero’s legacy can make it all happen.
Glenn died Dec. 8 at age 95. He was the first American to orbit Earth, in 1962, and became the oldest person in space at age 77 in 1998. He was also a decorated war hero, a record-setting aviator and a long-time U.S. senator.
“I strongly believe we need to have something prominent in Ohio, and people have been very supportive,” said Sackowitz, who is getting his master’s degree in history at St. John’s University. “John Glenn really inspired me. He left a mark on me, and the whole country. He brought people together. The country in many ways is divided now, but he was loved by everyone. You saw that at the memorial service.”
Glenn lay in repose at the Ohio Statehouse longer than any other figure in history, including slain President Abraham Lincoln. Thousands of people came to pay their respects and 2,500, including Vice President Joe Biden, attended a memorial service at Ohio State University the next day.
State Rep. Michael Sheehy, a Toledo-area Democrat, said he’s ready to work with Sackowitz on getting a Glenn statue created and placed on Statehouse grounds — preferably on the lawn.
“I think we need to strike while the iron is hot, because our culture moves so fast and some young people are just clueless that he was such a great figure, not just in Ohio but in the world at large,” Sheehy said. “To my mind, he was the most public figure of my lifetime.”
Sackowitz said he first became interested in Glenn when, as a second-grader, he witnessed Glenn’s return to space in 1998. His grandparents had attended the ticker tape parade in New York celebrating Glenn’s 1962 orbit.
Sheehy remembers that great feat, and recalls later handing out leaflets for Glenn’s U.S. Senate campaign while he was in college.
“He’s the sort of the guy who appeals to all generations,” Sheehy said.
Officials are reviewing Sackowitz’s application seeking a historic designation for Glenn’s birthplace in Cambridge, Ohio, according to Emmy Beach, spokeswoman for Ohio History Connection, a statewide history group. Sackowitz said he’s working with the city’s mayor on a possible plaque marking the site in case the application is denied.
Beach said most residences that make the national historic register were lived in “during the productive years of a person’s life,” as was the case with inventor Thomas Edison’s home in Milan in northern Ohio, but not for the Glenn property in Cambridge. She said Glenn’s childhood home in New Concord, Ohio, where the Glenn family moved when John was 2 years old, is maintained as a state historic site and museum.